Gustav Klimt Biography

Brief information

Born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, 14 July 1862. Died in Vienna, 6 February 1918. Attended the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry School of Arts and Crafts from 1874; worked as decorator: set up studio with his brother in Vienna, 1883-92: commissions for work in the Kunsthistorische Museum, 1891; then established as a painter; co-founder Vienna Sezession, 1898 (resigned, 1903): decorated the ceilings of Vienna University, 1900-03.


Major Collection: Vienna: Osterreichische Galerie. Other Collections: Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dresden; London; Munich; New York: Moma; Ottawa; Prague; Rome: Arte Moderna; Strasbourg; Turin: Galatea; Venice: Arte Moderna; Vienna.

The Life

Gustav Klimt started his career as an artist under the influence of Hans Makart whose decorative historical paintings set the trend for the decorative art which was so in demand with the fashion-conscious Viennese elite. Klimt, while being influenced by Makart 's grandiose visions, nevertheless allowed his art to move in new directions. His own decorative paintings, influenced as they were by the mysterious tonalities of the symbolist Fernand Knopff. didn't always receive public or critical acclaim, and though Klimt received the highest honors and several public commissions, his reputation later floundered due to public opinion and differences in taste. Perhaps his origins as a decorator led Klimt to continue his artistic career within a decorative framework, deriving inspiration from sources as remote as ancient Greek and Assyrian art, the Byzantine friezes of Italy, and the flowing style of Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was a largely decorative style of painting which attempted to synthesize natural forms into a new order of expansive pictorial design. The movement was typified by the search for the hidden processes in nature which are manifest in the sinuous and flowing lines and biomorphic forms which suggest the organic processes of growth, expansion, and creation. The historical themes of the 19th century were abandoned, and artists struggled towards the creation of a new harmony based on the rhythmic, flowing lines of nature excused from the gravitational pull of pure naturalism. Furthermore, these free-flowing lines were suggestive of femininity, and many of the works made under this heading used women as the central motif, thus enhancing these qualities of grace and elegance. Further influencing Klimt was the art of the Symbolist movement. Especially apparent is the influence of Jan Toorop, an artist of East African origin, whose exoticism combined with the sinuous Art Nouveau style produced works of a mysterious but decorative nature. If we compared Toorop's The Three Brides (1893, Otterlo) with Klimt's Goldfish (1901-02, Solothurn) and Water-Snakes 1 (1904-07, Vienna), we can see clearly the connection between the two, most markedly in the stylistic use of the women's hair and their exaggeratedly narrow limbs.

The trend in Symbolism was towards a more esoteric view in art, the function of an image to remain merely documentary falling by the wayside, leaving no room for the mundane world or the commonplace. This turnabout became in Klimt a concern with both the exotic and with the life-cycle itself, and through the combined influences of Symbolist suggestion and oriental art came Klimt's erotic paintings. Perhaps Klimt's preoccupation with the erotic has been overemphasized, for many of his works are imbued with a certain tenderness of feeling.This document was written for art creation forever . com One of the many motifs Klimt used was that of union. At times this becomes a mystical union with the deep, as in Water-Snakes, and at others the union of man and woman and the culmination of harmony. In Fulfillment (1905-09, Strasbourg), the figures of a man and woman embrace, their forms merging into the ornamented design of the man's cloak which, bedecked and studded with gold ovals and mosaic patterns, adds to the innate sense of harmony. Behind the couple spiralling plant tendrils are used both to decorate and to suggest the harmonious forces of nature and natural love. We can also sec this recurrent theme in The Kiss (1907-08, Vienna). The reverse of this harmony can be seen in the painting of Judith II (Salome) (1909, Venice), where we sense, through Klimt's use of pallid skin tones and the angularity of Salome's pose, a convulsion against harmony, which is further emphasized by the claw-like grip of the hands. This image embodies the destructive forces of the femme fatale, a favourite Symbolist subject. Klimt's static, symbolic images with their use of gold painted areas and mosaic-like pattern recall the art of the Byzantine era, and the obsessive flattening out of the image reinforces the spiritual or transcendental qualities of the paintings. His many portraits of a purely decorative kind, usually these of women, are studded with mosaic-like forms, purely decorative in their use of pattern juxtaposed against flat areas of paint. One recalls Whistler in the subtle, whispering tonalities of the portrait of Margaret Stonborough- Wittgenstein (1905, Munich, Neue Pinakothek), and in the overt Japaneism of a later date.

Throughout his life, and parallel to his other works, Klimt continued to paint landscapes. These landscapes, influenced as they were by Impressionist technique and Art Nouveau form, are dreamily poetic in nature, and in the tortuous branches of Avenue in the Park ofKammer Castle (1912, Vienna) one finds a certain kinship with Van Gogh, though Klimt's gentle, decorative manner is far from Van Gogh's vigorous, expressive bent. Klimt has given these landscapes a near abstract quality in their flatness and in the near uniformity of surface pattern. In these paintings Klimt foreshadows abstract expressionism, and one can almost sense in these the tenderness of a Mark Rothko, or the vibrant facades of a Hans Hofmann.